Pregnancy and Parenting in Foster Care
If you are pregnant or have a child while in foster care, you have the right to make decisions about
• your health care, including birth control and STI testing and treatment,
• your pregnancy, including whether you will give birth or have an abortion, and
• your child’s care and custody.
This part of the guide explains these rights. It also explains what you can do if you want to
• keep your child with you in foster care, or
• take your child with you when you leave foster care.
As a foster child, do I have the right to use birth control?
Yes. You have the same rights as anyone else under 18 to use birth control and other types of health care.
If I get pregnant, do I have the right to give birth or have an abortion?
Yes. You have the same rights as anyone else under 18—rights to pregnancy health care, abortion, and adoption.
If I am in foster care, can my child stay with me?
Yes. Even if you are under 18 and in foster care, you can keep legal custody of your child. That means you can make all the important decisions for your child.
No one can take your child from you just because you are under 18 or in foster care. But you must care for your child, just like any parent.
Maya is in foster care and has a baby. Can her child stay with her?
Yes. If she takes good care of her child, she can keep custody of the child.
What if I am not a good parent?
Child Protective Services (CPS) may take the child from you if you
- run away,
- do not take care of the child,
- abuse the child, or
- leave the child with someone who does not care for him or her properly.
For more information on how to take care of your child, see Raising A Child.
As a foster child with custody, do I have the right to keep my child with me?
You and your child have the right to stay together—if CPS can find a placement for the two of you. CPS must try to do this.
Exception: You may be separated from your child if
- you do not want to be with your child,
- you are not a fit parent, or
- your child would be in danger by staying with you.
What if they cannot find a foster home where I can stay with my child?
If CPS tries to separate you and your child for any reason, talk to your social worker and a lawyer right away. Ask them to help you protect your right to live with your child.
Would CPS ask me to give up custody of my child?
CPS may ask you to give up custody if
- it makes it easier for them to find a foster home for your child (even if you stay together), or
- your social worker thinks you are not caring for your child well enough, but does not want to go to court to have the child taken from you.
If CPS separates you from your child for any reason, talk to your lawyer right away!
If I give up custody, will I be able to get my child back later?
It may be hard to get your child back, even after you turn 18 and leave foster care. Don’t give up your child unless you have thought about it very carefully. Also, ask your lawyer for advice.
What if CPS asks me to give up custody just for a short time?
If your social worker thinks you are not caring for your child well enough, s/he may ask you to sign a parenting agreement. It may be a Voluntary Family Reunification (VFR) agreement, or a Voluntary Family Maintenance (VFM) agreement.
If you sign a VFR, you are saying that you
- agree to get services that may help you to be a better parent, and
- agree that your child will not stay with you during that time. Your child may live with the other parent, with a relative, or in a foster home.
If you sign a VFM, you are saying that you
- agree to get services that may help you to be a better parent, and
- agree that your child will stay with you during that time.
If I sign a Voluntary Family Reunification (VFR) agreement, when can my child move back in with me?
Most VFRs last about six months. If you follow the agreement, you will most likely get your child back.
Important: If you do not follow through with your VFR, then your parental rights will be ended and your child will likely be adopted by someone else.
If I lose or give up custody of my child, does my child have to be in foster care, too?
Maybe not. First, the court will decide whether the child’s other parent can care for him or her.
The court may also check on whether your child can stay with
- your relatives, or
- the other parent’s relatives.
Important! Talk to your lawyer before agreeing to let your child be in foster care. Your lawyer can explain what might happen later.
If my child is in foster care, can I get him/her back later?
That depends. If your child is under 3 years old when s/he enters foster care, you may get only six months to work with the court to get the child back. This is called a case plan.
What is a case plan?
A court-ordered case plan is supposed to give you the skills to be a good parent. It may include
- counseling for you,
- parenting classes,
- help with drug or alcohol problems, and
- planning for what happens when you leave foster care.
These are called Family Reunification Services. They are meant to help you become a better parent so you can get your child back.
Is it hard to complete a case plan?
Sometimes. Since you are a child and in foster care, it can be hard to do some of the things the court tells you to do. For example, the court may order you to go to counseling without thinking about how you would get there.
Do not agree to a case plan unless you are very sure you can complete everything in it. If you do not follow your case plan, you may not get your child back.
Talk to your lawyer before you agree to a case plan.
What if I am having a problem trying to complete the case plan?
Your social worker must help you. Contact your social worker and your lawyer if
- you need help to make the plan work, or
- you are not getting regular visitation with your child.
If you have a problem, do not wait until you go to court!
When will I get my child back?
To get your child back, you must show the court that
- you completed the case plan, and
- you can take good care of your child.
After I get my child back, am I done with the court?
No. The court and your social worker will watch you and your child for at least six months.
What if I cannot complete my case plan?
Your child may be placed
- in long-term foster care,
- with a legal guardian, or
- for adoption.
If your child is going to be adopted, the court will end your rights as a parent first. Talk to your lawyer about these possibilities.
Who is in charge of my child if we are together in foster care?
If you have custody of your child, you decide how to care for him/her—for example, how to feed and dress the baby, what to do when the baby cries, etc.
But if your child is also a foster child, a foster parent or caseworker will decide about the child’s day-to-day care.
A third option is called a Whole Family Foster Home. That is when you have custody, but you and your foster parents together plan your child’s day-to-day care.
What is a Whole Family Foster Home (WFFH)?
WFFHs are homes especially for foster children with children of their own.
In a WFFH, the foster parents get special training to show foster children how to be good parents.
In a WFFH, you and your
- foster parents,
- social worker, and
- other people you want to involve (like the child’s other parent)
Agree together about how to care for your child. It’s best to make a written agreement within 30 days of being at the WFFH with your child.
What should the WFFH agreement cover?
The agreement, called a Shared Responsibility Plan (SRP), should say who does what for the child and when.
It should cover things like
• health care
• sleeping arrangements
• supplies for the child
• taking the child to appointments
Before you sign the agreement, read it carefully and make sure you can do everything you are promising to do. You have the right to a copy of the agreement. You may want to change the agreement from time to time as your child grows.
Is a Whole Family Foster Home right for me?
A WFFH can be a good experience. It can
- strengthen the bond between you and your child,
- prevent arguments over the child’s care while you are in foster care,
- allow you time for your own activities (homework, after-school activities), and
- help you be ready to take full charge of your child when you leave foster care.
Think about whether your Shared Responsibility Plan is likely to do these things.
If my child is not with me in foster care, can we visit?
Yes. You have a right to be in contact and maintain relationships with your immediate family. This includes your child, unless a court has ended your parental rights.
It is your social worker’s job to make sure you can visit your child often. Contact your lawyer right away if you cannot visit for any of these reasons:
- the social worker does not let you,
- you have problems getting transportation,
- your child’s caregiver makes it difficult for you, and/or
- something else keeps you from visiting.
Can my child’s other parent visit or care for our child?
Yes, unless the court says s/he cannot. Your social worker is supposed to make sure your child gets to see the other parent.
Does my foster parent get money for my child?
Yes. The state will increase the amount of money your foster parent or group home receives if your child stays there with you. The amount depends on whether you have custody of your child and the kind of foster home you are in.
Your foster parents will get more money to care for you and your child if
- you and your child are both foster children, or
- you are in a Whole Family Foster Home (WFFH).
If you are not getting what you need to care for your child (diapers, clothes, toys/books, etc.), talk to your social worker and lawyer.
Will I be treated differently in foster care if I have a child?
It depends on your foster-care situation. For example, your foster parents may not want or be able to care for a child. Your group home may not be able to care for babies safely.
If you are pregnant and want to have the baby, talk to your social worker, your lawyer, and your foster parents. You can decide together whether the foster home you are in will be a good place for you to stay.
If you need a different placement, the more time your social worker has to work with, the easier it will be to find a place where you and your child can be together.
Can I get help to learn how to be a good parent?
Yes. If you have a baby while in foster care, your foster parents and your social worker should help you get what you need to be a good parent, including
- parenting classes,
- child-development classes, and
They should also make sure you can keep going to school and other activities not related to being a parent.
CPS must also try to help you become a good parent, so you can care for your child on your own after you leave foster care.
For more information on parenting resources, see Raising A Child.
Can I take my child with me when I leave foster care?
If you have custody of your child, your child can go with you when you leave foster care. You and your social worker should plan to find a good living situation for you. After you leave foster care, it is up to you to care for your child and to make decisions for your family.
If the other parent or a relative has cared for your child while you were in foster care, but you still have parental rights, you must ask the court to give the child back to you if the court gave them custody (called “guardianship”). You must show the court that
- you will be a good parent,
- you are able to care for your child, and
- giving you custody would be best for the child.
Then, if the judge agrees, you will work with CPS to develop a “reunification plan” to have your child live with you. You should talk to your lawyer about this.
If your social worker thinks you cannot care for your child, CPS may ask the court to make your child a dependent of the court. This means the child will stay in foster care.
Remember! If you do not keep custody of your child while you are in foster care and do not make or follow a Family Reunification Plan, then you will lose your parental rights, and your child will likely be adopted.